Aleix Espargaro

Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Hot Tarmac, The Sad Loss Of Suzuki, Electronic Oddness, And Frustration For Aprilia And Honda

Going into the final MotoGP race of the year at Valencia, we were all expecting Ducati to dominate. After all, they had utterly dominated the 2022 season. Ducati had won 12 of the 19 races so far (7 by Pecco Bagnaia), had at least one rider on the podium for 25 consecutive races, taken 15 pole positions, and had at least one rider on the front row for 39 races. In 2021, Ducati had locked out both the front row of the grid, and the podium at at Valencia.

After qualifying, Ducati had increased their pole tally to 16 in 2022 and extended their streak of consecutive front row starts to 40. Jorge Martin started from pole, and Jack Miller qualified third. But that something had changed was clear from the rest of the grid. Marc Marquez was second on the Repsol Honda – a fit Marquez can use his genius to pull a fast lap out of the bag, but the Honda is in no shape to sustain that over race distance – while the second row consisted of Fabio Quartararo on the Yamaha, Alex Rins on the Suzuki, and Maverick Viñales on the Aprilia. Valencia was not looking like being a Ducati whitewash (redwash?) again.

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Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Aprilia's Dream Ends, Morbidelli vs Espargaro, Arm Pump For Mir, And Spinning KTMs

While most of the focus from Sunday's race at Sepang was on the battle at the front – understandably, as the championship (nearly) got settled – there was plenty to learn from events further down the field as well.

The battle at the front left only Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo standing in the battle for the championship. Enea Bastianini may have finished second, but Bagnaia's victory put the Gresini Ducati rider out of contention.

Sepang also saw the end of the dream for Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia as well. A tenth place finish (eleventh crossing the line, but given a place after his clash with Franco Morbidelli, more of which anon) put him 46 points behind Bagnaia, and out of reach of the MotoGP championship.

End of a dream

"I'm very disappointed today. I'm very sad," Espargaro said after the race. But he was proud of everything he and Aprilia have achieved this year. "I'm very proud of everybody in Aprilia, of myself, of my teammate of everybody in Noale. What we did this year is amazing, historic, it will be forever. It will last for ever."

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Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes: How (Not) To Win A Championship, And A Morbidelli Revival

Winning a MotoGP championship is hard. Arguably, the individual riders championship is the hardest title in the world to win. Apart from the basics – talent, and the opportunity to develop it – you also need to have persuaded a factory team with a competitive bike that they should sign you to race for them. You need the right people around you, and the right tools to take on the very best riders in the world, on the fast racing motorcycles ever built.

That last part, getting on a competitive bike, may be one of the hardest parts. Even with six factories and twelve seats (to be reduced to five factories next year), getting to join the right factory at the right time is tough. It is easy for factories to take the wrong direction, and go from being competitive to struggling. Yamaha's botched engine upgrade this year is evidence of that. Or Honda's radical update to the RC213V which has improved one weakness while removing the bike's greatest strength.

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Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pressure, Tows, Bumps, And Championships

There is a cliché about sports events having a "pressure cooker atmosphere", but in the case of the Sepang MotoGP race, it is almost literally true. A combination of withering heat, completely saturated humidity, and incredible pressure is cooking up an explosive climax to the MotoGP championship.

With a championship on the line, the pressure is plain to see. In the previous 18 races, Pecco Bagnaia had just 12 crashes. On Saturday, he added another two to that tally. Fabio Quartararo has had six crashes in the 18 races before this weekend, and added another during FP4, fracturing a finger in his left hand in the process. Likewise Aleix Espargaro, who has added another two crashes this weekend, taking his total to 13. For the record, the current crash leader is Darryn Binder, with 22.

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Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: Rain Ruining Plans, The Dangers Of A Wet Q1, And Aprilia Coming Up Short

The weather in the tropics is always a gamble. At some places, you can set your clock by the rains during monsoon season. If it's 3:45pm, you're about to get soaked. At others, you only know that at some point during the afternoon, a lot of rain is going to fall. It might rain at 1pm. Or it might rain at 5pm. But of one thing you can be certain: a hard rain is gonna fall, and it will flood the track.

Friday at Sepang the rain came shortly after 2:15pm, less than a quarter of the way through the Moto2 FP2 session. Light at first, then more heavily, then a torrent of water from the heavens, forcing a red flag, and a delay of an hour.

It caught everyone by surprise. The forecast had been for dry weather through the afternoon, and teams had made their plans accordingly. That meant that in FP1, a lot of riders didn't bother putting in a set of soft tires to chase a fast lap, expecting to improve in the afternoon.

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Phillip Island MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Secret To Great Racing, How To Win A Tire Conservation Race, And The Power Of Leadership

If there is one thing which is bound to rile up the fans and get them complaining, it is the prospect of a race which requires the riders to carefully manage their tires. "Let them race!" people cry. "It should be a test of who goes fastest, not who can save their tires!" The clamor invariably ends up with a single, indignant demand: "Bring back the tire wars!"

If you needed proof of the wrongness of that opinion, you need only look at Sunday's Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island. In a race where tire preservation was paramount, we saw countless passing maneuvers throughout the race, a pass for the win on the last lap, and the first seven riders finishing within a second of one another. Yes, you read that right. The top seven were within one second. 0.884, actually.

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Phillip Island MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Record Falls At Last, Managing Tires, And Controlling Wildlife

It has been a long time coming, but Jorge Lorenzo's pole record from 2013 has fallen at last. Lorenzo's 1'27.899 was MotoGP's most long-standing record, the then factory Yamaha rider smashing the previous pole record, set by Casey Stoner in 2008 by seven tenths of a second.

Why did Lorenzo's record stand for so long? Those with a long memory will remember that Phillip Island was last resurfaced at the end of 2012, with Stoner being used as a consultant on the project. The new asphalt increased the available grip by a massive amount. Fergus Cameron, managing director of the circuit at the time, told the New Atlas website, "On a scale of 0-110 on a friction coefficient test the old surface was at 54 or 55 and the new surface is at 78, so the new surface is much grippier."

The Omnishambles

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